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Bar News - April 4, 2008

How I Moved from a Fourth-floor Office to Flight Level Three Seven Zero


Don Hebert in the cockpit of Embraer 135  jet

It’s 6:00 a.m. on February 5, 2008. I am sitting in the cockpit of an Embraer 135 at Gate B-27 at Logan International Airport. I must prepare the airplane for its departure and its flight to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. Then I must actually fly the airplane, with 35 passengers and three crew members on board.

But I have never flown the airplane before. I have only "flown" the simulator. My palms are sweaty and I am trying to think how I wound up where I am….

It all began a little more than a year ago. Ever since we had begun our association eight years before, my law office partner Richard Uchida and I had discussed the possibilities that sabbaticals offered–but neither one of us had had the time or motivation to figure out what a sabbatical would look like.

Now I was encouraging him to take some time off. He had served as Bar president and deserved some time to himself–but he refused to take the time and offered me the opportunity to take a sabbatical instead. The more I thought about the idea, the more I liked it.

I finally drummed up the courage to tell my wife Holly, that I was thinking of going on sabbatical. "Fine," she said. "What are you going to do?"

"I hadn’t thought about that, "I replied.

"If you could do anything in the world, what would it be?"

"Learn to fly a jet," I said at once.

"Then go learn to fly a jet."

For me this was not a totally new idea. I had been flying for six or seven years, and had earned my private pilot’s license, then an instrument endorsement, a commercial license, and a flight instructor’s license. After earning the private license, each of those added endorsements on my pilot certificate represented many months of work. Each required a written exam, an oral exam, and a practical, or flying exam.

I researched the options and decided that the best program for me was at the FlightSafety International Academy in Vero Beach, Florida. After a 15-week program of classroom study and single engine and multi-engine flying, I would be eligible to start training in a full-motion jet simulator. The simulator is a multi-million dollar replication of the cockpit of the actual jet, complete with the sound, feel and sights of the real airplane.

There was only one catch. In order to be accepted for simulator training, I would have to have a job offer from one of the participating airlines. I decided to try for American Eagle, the regional carrier for American Airlines, and the largest regional carrier in the country, because they were the only ones that had a base in Boston. They accepted me.

So down to Vero Beach I went.

I started at FlightSafety in June and finished in November. Toward the end of my training, I took and passed three of the customary airline interviews administered by American Eagle: the personal interview, the technical interview and the flight test (in the simulator). The only remaining hurdle was the medical interview, and that was to be conducted the week before Thanksgiving at American Airlines headquarters in Dallas.

I finished at FlightSafety on Thursday afternoon, drove home on Friday, and left for Dallas on Sunday. After the medical exam, I flew back home on Monday afternoon. The next Sunday I flew back to Dallas to start training….

Now I was facing my first actual experience of flying a jet–my dream come true. When I told my daughter that day that I would be flying the airplane for the first time and that there would be passengers aboard, she asked if we would announce that this was my first flight in the airplane. I assured her we would not!

I completed my preflight cockpit scan and waited for the captain to call for the Before Start Checklist. After he did that, we were underway. As we taxied onto the runway he said, "Your airplane."

"My airplane" I replied.

I pushed the thrust levers up just a little to make sure they were responding appropriately, then pushed them all the way into the detent position.

"Set thrust," I said.

"Thrust set," the captain replied.

"Eighty knots," the captain said.

"Eighty knots," I echoed.

"V1, rotate."

And so, we were off. The captain, the flight attendant and I–and 35 passengers who had no idea that they were traveling with a first officer who was flying for the first time. As we climbed, I could see southern New Hampshire and then Manchester Airport. And there was our museum, made small by our altitude of 12,000 feet, but it was there.

Flying a jet had been my dream from as far back as I could remember. But it was only a dream; a dream of moving my office from the fourth floor to flight level three-seven-zero (37,000 feet), the maximum cruise altitude for the Embraer 135.

I hadn’t had any idea how to make my dream a reality until I just did it–but none of it would have occurred without the blessing and support of my wife and daughter.

Donald F. Hebert has been a member of the NH Bar since 1989. He is also now a jet pilot.

Supreme Court Rule 42(9) requires all NH admitted attorneys to notify the Bar Association of any address change, home or office.

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